andrew-estherGrowing up, I often heard Valentine's Day called a "Hallmark holiday"…followed by a bit of a smirk and a wink.  I had trouble reconciling this cynical attitude with the weeks-long leadup of advertisements encouraging one to "make your partner feel appreciated," find the perfect dozen roses, and to be sure to hand-deliver the most sensual box of chocolates on the planet to your beloved.  As time has passed, I have come to believe that Valentine's Day really is—at least for Andrew and I—an annual moment along a very long journey together to pause and appreciate the durability of our love for each other, the commitment we have to support each other "in sickness and in health" and to reflect on just how precious our bond really is.

When we courted and then married 30 years ago, we were both younger (of course), in pretty darned good physical shape and dedicated to recreational athletics as part of our "stay healthy" lifestyle.  We were both driven by career aspirations and lucky to find that the things that gave us professional satisfaction were complementary—we could actually work together along the way.  We had similar values, identical devotion to family and nurturing deep, long-lasting friendships, and an insatiable wanderlust that has since taken us along for a global ride that has brought us lots of joy individually and as a couple.  And so much of this has had real staying power—this simpatico has been the glue that has helped us reach this Valentine's Day together.

A lot has happened in our 30 years.  Three incredible children, a move overseas and back again, building a business and so much more.  These have reaped for us both great intellectual, spiritual and psychological rewards.  We also embarked on a shared cancer journey—this we did not choose but it’s nonetheless ended up on our life itinerary.  Admittedly, the patient experience itself belongs to Andrew—I'd never presume to fully understand what it's like to be in his shoes.  But I do know that as Andrew's life partner, I am fully in the passenger seat - and where his journey takes him, I am along for the ride. That said, together we made a key decision early on, that we'd take the trip together as equal and supportive partners.

As anyone who sits in the passenger seat on any trip, you have the choice to be passive—let the driver drive, not offer any input on which way to go, and make no suggestions about where to stop along the way.  In that scenario though, the passenger has to make peace with however the trip unfolds—the passenger does not contribute to the potential richness of the experience and takes no responsibility for whether the trip goes well or badly—at least on things about the trip that can be controlled.

Andrew and I agreed from the beginning that we would take as much control of the cancer journey as we could—together.  We have researched and openly discussed treatment options as a team.  We were united in how we communicated with our young children about what was happening, and worked together to help them understand and not be frightened—to see us as a team working together with physicians to help Dad be healthy.  We agreed that this passenger (me) needed my own support along the way, and this we tackled as partners as well.  And most of all, we have continually been in lockstep about living every day to its fullest—together.

Valentine's Day marks for us another leg of a long journey—and reinvigorates us to write the next chapter—together.

Esther Schorr